Engineering and Metaphor

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What is a Metaphor ?

A Metaphor is an “expression of an understanding of one concept in terms of

another concept, where there is some similarity or correlation between the two”

according to the LinguaLinks Library. Metaphors are used by anyone trying to convey an

idea in an indirect manner. We use them daily without realizing it. Metaphors put a twist

in daily language in that they are a unique way of describing a concept. There are

common metaphors that we use everyday and not so common ones which are used

specifically in some kind of field for example engineering. Since engineers usually work

as a team to accomplish a goal, they use metaphors to communicate with each other


Metaphors everyday

There are thousands of metaphors that are used almost unconsciously every day.

They are viewed as ways to encode different points of views in regular conversations. An

example of a common metaphor is “jumping for joy.” In order to understand this

metaphor, we have to look for the concept first. The concept is Joy or Happiness and the

action of jumping is used to convey the significance of joy. For example when a High

School student receives his/her acceptance letter from a university they applied to, they

get overwhelmed with happiness, so they “jump for joy.”

Another common metaphor is “you are the light in my life.” Here the concept is

life and the quality of life is signified by the word “light.” We abstractly view light as a

positive occurrence, so in this metaphor, someone or something is a positive influence in

the person’s life. This metaphor is used frequently between two people in a relationship.

Among the most common metaphors are ones that refer to our senses such as touch, taste, sight etc (Sensory Metaphors). For example in the metaphor previously used, light can be

referred to as a sight.

A common metaphor that is used occasionally, but one that is not as clear as the

subsequent ones is, “I was left saddled with the blame.” This metaphor claims that

responsibilities are Burdens, so if you are not responsible for your actions, then you are

the one to blame and your responsibility is no longer a burden. One can put this metaphor

in contrast to a student in college. Students are responsible for doing homework and

investing time studying in order to complete their college education. Their education is a

burden because a degree is a load carried with someone that helps in discovering a dream

job for instance.

Engineering Metaphors

In Engineering, metaphors facilitate the communication process. “Out of phase” is

an informal phrase that can be used in various contexts. The origin of this phrase comes

from the misalignment of the parts of one mechanical or electrical cycle with another

(The Engineer). For things to work simultaneously, they have to be in phase. When they

are out of phase, the parts tend to not be conforming to each other. Since many engineers

work as a team, each part of the team must be in phase to complete a specific project. A

lead engineer may say “let’s not get out of phase with our objectives” to the other

engineers. He is trying to convey to the engineers the importance of working together in

order to reach a goal. The engineers have to conform collectively within the team to have

a chance of being successful and fulfill their purpose. This metaphor is used widely in the

engineering field and is extremely effective because it describes the concept of


A sparingly used metaphor in the engineering field is “equilibrium.” Equilibrium

is defined to be the steady state in a certain condition. It can be referred to as

psychological poise (The Engineer). The source of this metaphor originated in the world

of fluid mechanics. In fluid mechanics, something is said to have equilibrium when all...
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